Everyone has a recipe for writer’s block. Well, not everyone, but many writers have their own way of getting over or through it. I love to hear the professionals weigh in. So I did some research and found the answers among them run a wide spectrum.
I love the way Ana Claudia Antunes, author of A-Z of Happiness shares her thoughts on the matter with the cleverness of Dr. Seuss:
“To unlock the writer’s block is to keep writing until you can unknot the “not.” If you cannot, then put a “can” in the plot and unwrap it a lot.”
I love the word knot because I can think of a few times where my story was in terrible knots. Too many characters, a plot gnarled like a thousand-year-old tree. It was a mell of a hess, and everything came to a screeching halt. I thought about it for weeks and finally started again. Then I did it again and again. Oy vey, I was never so glad to end that story. It lies in wait for a second draft after I finish my current project. But I also like Antune’s use of “not” and “can.” I will hold on to that one for future reference.
How about this one:
“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” ~ Erica Jong, The New Writer’s Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career
My mistake on that knotted story I just told you about is that I put it on Hubpages in its first draft. My followers watched my madness and were too nice to say, “Good heaven’s Lori, what the heck is wrong with you.” They did, however, affirm the parts they enjoyed, and it spurred me on. Overall they seemed to like story and characters but I’m sure it was hard to follow. Jong’s words were spot on. A psychological issue indeed. Fear of being judged? You bet. All I could think of was what are people going to think? Are they going to like it? I learned my lesson. No more rough drafts in public. Keep it under wraps until it’s a work of art. I will also note that I had too many ideas running through my head on that story. In the beginning, I saw in my grandiose mind’s eye a sweeping, period-piece saga. It was like being clinically manic – a flight of ideas on steroids.
Toni Morrison, bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1988) had a different take. I guess I should listen to her the most since she’s in the Pulitzer league. However, I find it somewhat discouraging.
“I tell my students there is such a thing as ‘writer’s block,’ and they should respect it. You shouldn’t write through it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked because you haven’t got it right now.”
I’ll have to mull that one over. But here are two authors whose advice I was given that helped me in other projects.
New York Times bestselling author of the Life’s Little Instruction Book series, H. Jackson Brown Jr. said:
“Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Begin, and inspiration will find you.”
This is good if I feel dry but really want to get back in the game. Or if I have one tiny spark, like the name of a character (which pop up in my mind at random quite often), or maybe a vague theme like writing about having cancer. It’s a good tool. Just start writing. Once I find my hook I find the story, poem, or article takes on a life of its own. I didn’t know where I was going when I started and I didn’t know where it was going to end, but the ride is delicious and exciting.
Most of all, I love Mary Lee Settle’s very simple and uncomplicated advice:
“I start with a question. Then try to answer it.”
I was given this advice from a Hubpages writing friend and also heard this from David Morrell, the author of First Blood, in his book Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks At His Craft (which is the best writing advice book I’ve read so far). I don’t have the book with me to make a direct quote, but one idea he proposed when writing a novel is to ask yourself “What if this were to happen? Then what? What if this happens? What if he did that?” I found this a good tool when stuck a bit. Not a full-on block but just trying to get some momentum, or to flesh out a story.
I’ll leave you with a few more to chew on without comment.
“There is no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” ~ Terry Blanchard
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.” ~ Hilary Mantel
If you have some tricks of the trade on writer’s block, do share. I need to build up an arsenal, just in case.